Thursday, May 21, 2009

If you're a smoker...

ASK if you can smoke first when visiting someone else's property. I don't care if you're there to work or socialize, I don't care if you're the President of the United States.

It's rude to just assume it's okay and start smoking when you're at someone else's house...even if you're outside.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Politely turning away houseguests

Dear Etiquette Bitch,

I recently moved to a desirable location that is popular and expensive to travel to. I am in the early stages of renovation, and will be in the midst of some level of chaos for the foreseeable future. That said, I enjoy being able to share my home and good fortune with friends. In the 4 months I have lived in the house, I have already had quite a few house guests, and twice as many requests to visit.

A couple of the guests were fantastic. They stayed 2-3 days, made their impact small, and made contributions to the shared visit.

The other group hasn't been a nightmare; it's that their expectations are out of line with what I can comfortably provide, and out of scale with our friendship. That's the reason I write you.
I rarely stay with others. I know how disruptive even considerate house guests can be, and thus being one makes me feel immediately apologetic.
My second group seems to operate in an opposite manner. They push for increasing amounts until my limits are reached. This places me in a terribly awkward position. I take my duties as host seriously. My guest's comfort and happiness are very important to me. But at this point I have begun feeling taken advantage of, and it's souring me on the idea of any guests.

Before it gets to where I cut it off completely (excluding the closest of friends), I'd like to figure out a way of politely telling people, "Yes, I appreciate you sending me your proposed itinerary which indicates you plan on staying with me for 10 days, but perhaps you might want to see how long I can host you in a less, 'I am one button push away from making all the decisions for both of us' manner."

People seem to get offended when I tell them I cannot host them for their entire trip. I realize this is their problem, but I do not want to lose additional friends over it. I have seen the island many times over now, have my own life to run, and cannot be their tour guide or long term innkeeper.

Can you help?


First off, mad props to you and to your first group of friends -- y'all seem to understand that "friend with a house in another locale" is not synonymous with "all expenses paid Hilton." The prudent (and desirable, invited-back) house guest is mindful of the host; pays for a meal or two (or three or four); contributes to the upkeep of the house (even if it's just making the bed); and leaves the host alone for some time.

The other group, well, you described them perfectly in your letter. I appreciate the delicate, uncomfortable situation you find yourself in. I'm going to give you some suggestions, and then I want you to practice saying these out loud. I promise you, if you don't practice, you won't use 'em when the time comes. How did Tiger Woods get so damn good at golf? He didn't think about it or read blogs about it -- he did it.

Now, on to you: You actually have the perfect out: you're in the middle of renovations. Heck, far as I'm concerned, your renovations are going to take years, especially when your 2nd group of friends calls you.

That said, I'm also not a fan of lying to get out of something, but in your case, it' s not a lie. So, we're going to practice a couple of routes, all involving the truth.

When someone sends you their 10-day itinerary, including a 10-day stay at your house:

"Hi, Jim, it's P. calling. Thanks for sending me your travel plans, but I'm sorry, I won't be able to host you all 10 days. I've got the plumber coming all that week, and with the way he's ripping out the walls, there's no place for me to put guests, and dust will be everywhere. I can have you stay that weekend, but not all ten days." [Or, "I'm sorry, it's just not going to work out this time."]

Or, just be straightforwardly honest:

"Carla, so glad you'll be in my neck of the woods! Listen, I don't want to offend you, and I hope this won't cause any friction between us, but I'm just not able to have any house guests right now. I've already had four visitors, and it's not even June! I'm just a little wiped right now, and I haven't even had time to attend to that drywall I'm putting up, but I'd love to see you for dinner on that Thursday you're here. I hope you understand. If you need a place to stay, I can recommend a timeshare up the road."


"Jake, hi, I got your email about your visit. This is uncomfortable for me to say, and slightly awkward, but I'm afraid I can't offer up my house or play host this time. I've just been swamped, and I really need to catch up. Would you like to meet for drinks on the Thursday or Friday you're here?"

(You don't even have to offer to meet for drinks or dinner; I just threw that in in case you do want to see these folks.)

If someone dumps you as a friend because you couldn't be their free meal ticket during a vacation, well, is that person worth keeping as a friend? You also mention that the second group, who show disregard for your time, space and needs, aren't really your closest why worry?

Host those who are near and dear to you, when you can. And remember, it's your home. Etiquette is about making others feel comfortable and at ease, but also about setting appropriate boundaries. Your non-close friends who would impose upon you when it's outside of your capacity...well, they're not practicing good etiquette, are they?

Maybe point them to this blog, where I'll remind them that it's bad manners to invite one's self to another's home.

On parenting when it's not your kid

The Tribune's "One Burning Question" actually had a decent question and answer yesterday. Quite honestly, I wanted to punch the rude woman written about in the letter.

The Letter Writer (LW) took her toddler son to the doctor. While in the waiting room, the toddler went to grab a toy. A freako parent nearby grabbed the toy first, then handed it to the little boy and said, "What do you say?"

Erm. I'd say, "Smack you in the face for trying to parent my kid while I'm standing there." Also, freako clearly didn't need to grab the toy since the little boy was already reaching for it.

Clearly, this incident was an over-the-top case of a helicopter parent trying to helicopter parent all kids within a 10-foot radius.

But what if there were a real problem going on, say the parent is nowhere near and the kid throws a toy at you? (This has happened to EB.)

I checked with a relative of mine who happens to be a pediatric specialist, and her rule is a good one: If the parent isn't around, or nearby to witness the action and respond, it's okay to say something to the child (not hitting, mind you); just say something like, "That's not nice," or whatever.

But if the parent is there, step aside and let the parent do the parenting. You don't tell someone else's kid, especially in front of their parents, "What do you say?" But if something harmful or egregious happens (kid hits you with a toy), gently point it out to the parent.

But your job is not to discipline someone else's kids. Sure, these minor offenses (like a skipped "thank you") will occur from time to time...that's when you can demonstrate grace and just let it go.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Be nice to your host

When visiting someone else's home, be it for a party, and overnight stay, whatever, Rule #1 is to be nice to your host.

Don't like something? Don't comment. This is just balls-out rude. Yes, I know, the food may not be to your liking; you're an alkie and she's a teetotaler; or her "remove the shoes" rules don't mesh with yours. Unless s/he's causing you bodily harm, keep quiet.

Offensive guest-to-host behaviors I've seen:
  • Drunken guest removing artwork off the host's walls and parading it around the home, providing verbal commentary as he walked.
  • Blunt guest telling host, "Your salsa's too warm. Maybe consider the freshness factor in the future."
  • Unshod guest complaining about shoe-removal rule all night long. Loudly.
Should hosts sometimes make exceptions for guests? Yes, absolutely. I personally can not remove my shoes due to a foot injury -- so I always carry an extra "clean" pair to a party.

If you have a special request for your host, let him or her know ahead of time, or take your host aside and mention said request.

But rude commentary on food, drink, artwork? Not cool.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Money questions are rude

Don't ask how much someone paid for something -- especially a car or a home.

Don't ask how much someone makes, or the amount of their last raise, etc.

Tying back to this, don't make someone feel bad for what they paid for something. About 5 years ago, a lovely woman moved into my condo building. The association president introduced herself to the new neighbor, and said, "I saw what you paid. You overpaid!"

What could you possibly gain from saying such a thing?

Easy etiquette rule: When it comes to money, keep your mouth shut.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Can you bear to hear me carp about cell phones again?

This one is a bother to everyone within a 5-foot radius:

When you go shopping, whether it's at the grocery store, Target, Kmart, Macy's, the local general store, please look around and note that you are in a store and not a f***king phone booth.

Every time I run errands, there's some dunce either wandering aimlessly among the aisles, blathering away, usually about some interesting-only-to-them personal problem; or some other dunce who walks in yapping on the phone, s/he grabs a cart, and then parks it right in front of the very item I need.

Both are irritating, especially when, as is usually the case, the yapper is loud, and doesn't really care if innocent bystanders have to hear about how her emotionally stunted boyfriend can't commit.

In a store? Here's a novel idea: stash the phone and shop.

* please note that there's nothing wrong with taking a quick call in the store -- sometimes you're needed. But a half-hour blather fest that really should be at home with a glass of wine? Not in the store.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

At a bar, keep your own seat

I've just been informed tonight that it's a d**k move to take someone else's seat at a bar.

So don't be a d**k.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Other people's appearance take 2

Also rude, and also stupid, are telling a random person -- whom you may or may not know -- "You look tired," or my personal piss-off: "Smile."

A recent Ask Amy column reminded me of this crap. Here's why you need not announce what you think of someone's facade:

1. Any comment with any word with any possible negative connotation (fat, old, skinny, tired, frowny, etc.) is rude. You think your coworker looks tired? Keep it to yourself. What good can possibly come from such a comment?

2. You don't know -- nor should you -- what that person is going through at that moment. Maybe she just received some bad news, maybe she's distracted, maybe she's got the weight of the world on her mind. "Smile" or "You look _______" are not helpful or constructive; they're just asinine and rude.

Thinking of this reminds me of a truism my dad told me when I was in sixth grade, and he was talking about the very people I'm writing about: "When someone makes a stupid comment like that, it's because they're so empty-headed that they have nothing else to say."

I'm with ya, Dad.

Friday, May 1, 2009

When you attend a cocktail party...

...dress for the occasion. Don't wear jeans. And don't heckle the host.

When it comes to invites...

1) no one likes to be an afterthought.

2) you usually have to go all-or-nothing.

#1 - means, simply, don't plan a gathering, then call your buddy Sue two hours into and say, "Hey, we're all hanging out here...why don't you stop by?" Even worse is a text to Sue. Really, please, show her how little she means to you.

#2 - certain situations can be tricky. You're getting married, or having a plain-ole' party, and you like Jim, Sally, and Dave from work, but you'd hate to have (shudder)Kris or Beth attend. What to do?

The answer lies above. Due to office politics, and your urge to avoid hurt feelings and at-work snippiness, it's best to either invite no one, or all of 'em. Your other option, if it's well played, is to take your few work buddies off to the side, invite them verbally, and mention that "not everyone from here is invited." If they can keep shtum, you're safe. But if word goes around that 50% of your office is invited (and the rest aren't), well, be prepared for some yucky feelings.